Aspen sister city former Nazi haven
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen’s newest sister city, Bariloche, Argentina, was for years a stronghold for high-ranking German Nazis, and the town’s population still refuses to condemn them for their actions, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph in Britain.
The report has caused concern among Aspen’s Jewish leaders and frustration among city officials.
“The only thing I find bothersome about this is that you would give this credibility by writing a story,” Griff Smith, the Bariloche city coordinator for Aspen’s sister cities, told The Aspen Times.
A sister city official from Bariloche confirmed that high-ranking Nazis were prominent members of the community, but believes this should not tarnish the town’s image.
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According to The Daily Telegraph, a respected conservative paper in London, Bariloche provided refuge to many high-ranking Nazis for years after World War II. Joseph Schwammberger, commander of the Polish ghetto Przemysl, Erich Priebke, a former SS officer now serving a life term in Italy for the massacre of 335 Italians, and possibly even Joseph Mengele, the Auschwitz death camp doctor known as the “Angel of Death,” resided in or near the town.
The Telegraph’s Feb. 14 article was written after the publication of a controversial guidebook of former Nazi homes in Bariloche by a local author.
When Priebke was arrested 10 years ago, he was the respected president of a local German school and a beloved delicatessen owner, the Telegraph reports. His son, George Priebke, who still lives in Baroliche, said that Nazis were always warmly accepted in the town.
“The culture here is different. In Italy people call us assassins and scream at us. Here they greet us and shake our hands,” Priebke told the Telegraph.
Nicolas Spagat, a member of Bariloche’s sister cities committee, told The Aspen Times that Nazis were indeed embedded in the community. He remembers Priebke and says he attended school with the children of Frederich Lantschner, the former Nazi governor of the Tyrol.
A Jew who was born in Argentina in 1945 after his parents fled Germany, Spagat believes co-habitation between Jews and Nazis in Bariloche was necessary for the survival of the community.
“There were Nazis here,” Spagat said. “And there were Jews here. The fact that one was or was not a Nazi or a Jew had nothing to do with what you did in [Bariloche], that’s the way we looked at it.
“It was an amazing time. Because Argentina was one of the few countries to accept Germans after the war, there were German Jews and German Nazis all working to build a community here. There were never any anti-Semitic problems or anti-Nazi problems. It was a small town. What were you going to do, shoot the Nazis?”
Bariloche officially became Aspen’s fifth sister city last April after a two-year “courtship” period, in which city officials visited and vetted the town. The relationship represents an informal diplomatic tie. In the last year, Aspen participated in eight exchange programs, sending and accepting doctors, students and city officials to and from the Andean village.
Leaders of Aspen’s Jewish community expressed concern about Bariloche’s past. Rabbi Mendel Mintz, the president of Chabad, a local Jewish group, said he hopes Aspen’s officials will pursue dialogue about Bariloche’s past with their Argentinean counterparts.
David Elcott, a representative for the moderate American Jewish Committee and frequent visitor to Aspen, said openness on the part of Bariloche officials is essential. He said unless Bariloche officials acknowledge that harboring high-ranking Nazis was morally indefensible, Aspen should break ties with the town.
“If a community is refusing to acknowledge that it allowed Nazis to allude responsibility, then it’s totally inappropriate for any American city to maintain a relationship with it,” Elcott said.
Aspen officials were defensive when questioned, arguing that the report in the Telegraph doesn’t warrant the town’s attention. “I think this is a non-story,” Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said.
Don Sheeley, president of Aspen’s Sister Cities program, defended Aspen’s relationship with Bariloche, arguing that every country has a checkered past.
“We have a sister city in Japan ” Shimukappu. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Does that mean we shouldn’t send our kids there?” Sheeley said.
Sister City coordinator Griff Smith, who has visited Bariloche numerous times, said that he has not received any indication of “lingering Nazi sympathies or anti-Semitism” in the town.
Klanderud also said that she could not identify “a drop of anti-Semitism” in Bariloche and that Aspen should be forward-looking in its relationship with its sister city.
“The whole purpose of the sister city program is to foster relationships with the international community, to plan for a better future. To resurrect something that’s nearly 60 years old is irresponsible,” she said.
Seamus Mirodan, the reporter who wrote the story for the Telegraph, said that although no high-ranking Nazis are still alive in Bariloche, its residents still have warm feelings for the Nazis who lived in town.
“I spent a week in Bariloche and I can say that within the culture there, [the Nazis] are still seen as having been pillars of the community. [The town’s residents] don’t understand why they were extradited,” Mirodan said.
[Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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